Mount Garfield ~ Winter Wonderland at 4500 feet

garfieldI could see snow in the distance on Mount Washington, but it had yet to stick in the valley, so I really didn’t expect to encounter much of the white stuff on our hike up Mount Garfield. Shortly into the hike, however, I realized that I was in for a surprise. Our boots crunched over a light dusting of snow. Then they sank into an inch of slush. Soon, we found ourselves marching through a winter wonderland, surrounded by ice frosted trees and snow banked trails.

garfield2At 4500 feet, Mount Garfield is the 17th highest of the New Hampshire 4000 footers in the White Mountains. The trail starts easy enough – for the first two of three miles, it’s like walking up a wheelchair ramp – a constant but not too steep incline. There are several river crossings which were quite easy to traverse, although I imagine that in late spring/early summer garfield6when the water level has risen from the thaw that they may prove more difficult.

Once you stop hiking straight up and start winding your way around the switchbacks, the trail takes on that endless feeling where you expect to see the top come into garfield3view around every corner, but it just doesn’t. The hike is in and out, five miles each way. Maybe it was the snow, but this was a VERY long five miles in. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how much ground we’ve crossed, but I was off by a good mile on this one. Just as I had garfield5convinced myself that we’d missed a turn and were hiking on to the next mountain, we finally reached a sign marking a split. Going straight would take us to the summit in .02 miles. Turning left would take us to a hut in .02 miles. Energy renewed, we hiked on to our destination.

garfield4At the very end, as usual, it gets a bit steeper and requires climbing some rocks, but for the most part, this was an easy, if long hike, with no slides, scrambles, large expanses of bald rock to cling to or any other more challenging features to garfield7conquer.The view was amazing, made all the more bewitching by the snow and ice. The summit was incredibly cold and windy, the kind of weather that claws at you, where your skin is whipped raw and you quickly lose feeling in your fingers and toes, so we snapped a few pictures and garfield8began our retreat.

 

It was too cold to stop and there was nowhere dry to sit, so lunch consisted of stuffing our pockets with food to eat while walking. With the short fall days, we were also pressed for time if we wanted to get off the mountain before nightfall. We did the ten mile hike in just under six hours.

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This seemingly endless hike was definitely worth the views, and even though I succumbed to the sniffles over the next couple of days, it was one of my favorite hikes of the year. I highly recommend this mountain.

 

Walking Over Presidents ~ Mounts Pierce & Eisenhower

mountpande1It was a beautiful August day in New Hampshire and the time had come for us to venture into new territory – the much anticipated Presidential Range. We started our hike at the first parking lot off of Mount Clinton Road, just a few hundred feet from route 302. The plan, and we were determined to not be deterred from the plan, was to hike Mount Pierce, backtrack to Crawford Path, hike up, over, and down Mount Eisenhower to the road, where we would walk a couple of miles back to the car to make a loop.

mountpande6What sets the Presidential Range apart from the rest of the White Mountains, (in essence they are the elusive holy grails of the New Hampshire 4000 footer mountains), is not that they’re much more difficult to climb. Rather, the prestige lies in the greater risk, and the risk comes from the weather. Being so far north, and at such a high altitude, the weather can change quickly.
mountpandeIt’s possible for it to snow in July and August. Even a bit of wind and rain can turn conditions deadly for the unprepared hiker. The warmest daily maximum temperature for Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the range (and New England), is only 54 degrees at the height of summer. mountpande4
Thus, hiking the Presidential Range calls for a bit more preparedness on the part of the hiker. It means packing extra food, extra water, and extra gear. Carrying cold clothes and rain clothes. All while still being able to hike with the added weight in your pack.

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Although the range is said to have the worst weather in America, and for this reason is used by climbers to train for K2 and Everest, we were fortunate enough to have ideal conditions for our hike. The trail up Mount Pierce was well maintained, and almost entirely within the treeline, making for an mountpande7enjoyable trip. The 1.6 miles between the summits of Pierce and Eisenhower, however, was mostly exposed. At times, with the sun beating down on you, it felt like being lost in a rocky desert wasteland (without being lost, or in a wasteland, or a desert for that matter). All drama aside, when you’re over 4000 feet closer to the sun than usual, you can feel it.

mountpande8The small amount of discomfort was worth it, however, when we finally reached Mount Eisenhower‘s peak. The view from Pierce was great, but from the top of 4780 foot Eisenhower, it was AMAZING. Well worth the climb. Note ~ when hiking up Eisenhower from Pierce, the trail to the Edmands path is to your right. It’s not marked, but a junction about a half mile from the summit will point you in the right direction for the rest of your descent, a hardscaped path to the left.

mountpande2This was a great loop, challenging at times but not at hard as I expected. We did the 10 miles in 6-7 hours (I forgot to check the end time) and this includes a break at each summit and several stops to talk with other hikers. Besides being a beautiful day, it was also a friendly day on the trails which is always a great bonus that adds to an enjoyable experience. This was by far my favorite climb of the year.

Mount Tom

tom2tomA couple of months ago, we intended to peak bag Mounts Willey, Field, and Tom to knock three more 4000 footers off our to-do list. It didn’t happen. We hiked up Willey and then over to Field, but by then it was too late in the day and the dark clouds churning in the sky told us to not push our luck, so Tom remained free of our bootprints. There was also the little issue of starting on the more difficult side, on the most difficult trail. I hate leaving things unfinished, so this past weekend, when we finally got the time to hike, we returned to Crawford Notch State Park to conquer Mount Tom.

tom4The trail for Mount Tom, which is also the MUCH easier trail to take if you want to peak bag Tom, Field and Willey, can be found at the Crawford Depot Station, a tiny yellow building where the train stops in Crawford off of 302. The beginning of the Avalon trail is home to several trailheads, which makes it a great path for people watching. Men in loafers, women carrying purses, tourists not accustomed to traveling far from their car – these are not the type of characters you usually see on a trail leading up a mountain. Listening to people complain about the dirt, the rocks, the bugs, the trees – basically everything that makes a wooded mountain trail a wooded mountain trail – makes for some amusing eavesdropping.

tom1tom3The Avalon leads to the A-Z trail which will take you to the Mount Tom spur. At 4052 feet, Tom was one of the easiest 4000 footers I’ve hiked to date. There are several shallow river crossings that can easily be traversed without getting wet. The trail is almost entirely wooded, leading to lovely, if limited, views. The true summit is marked by a stone cairn and can be found by taking the path to the left. We took our time, had a snack break, and were trapped several times behind slow moving groups of sightseers, and still made the hike in less than four hours. I would recommend this hike to those looking for an easy introduction to the  White Mountains.

Mount Willey & Field

willey10The last weekend in May, we set out to bag three more 4000 footers. The plan was to hike Mount Willey, Field and Tom, all part of the Crawford Notch section of the White Mountains. It may have been overly ambitious so soon into the hiking season, but we felt confident going in. willey9

The GPS took us to the Willey House Site, which wasn’t exactly where we wanted to go, but which was home to one of the trailheads that would lead us to Mount Willey. The most strenuous, direct way up. In fact, it’s suggested that if you take this way up, that you get dropped off at the trailhead after parking at the other end, as there was no loop to this hike. After hiking over the mountains one way, you’d have to hike them all again the other way to get back to your car without a drop. Whoops.

willey11So we took the Kedron Flume Trail, which wasn’t too horrible. The flume itself was neat, a stream of water that disappeared over the side of the mountain. We then hiked the Ethan Brook Trail the rest of the way up Mount Willey, which I thought was brutal. Most trails get steep the last half mile or so to the top. This one was crazy steep for an entire mile. There was a series of ten or so ladders on one area of the trail that you had to take to ascend the trail, sometimes over bald, smooth, vertical rock face. willey8I couldn’t see exactly how many ladders were in the series from the bottom, and it was much too perilous to stop in the middle for a picture, but by the end I felt like I had climbed up a twenty story building. And the trail just kept going up. After pretending to be in a movie (visions of the Chinese temple from the last Karate Kid came to mind), after pretending to be in an episode of Night Gallery or the Twilight Zone where I was caught on a trail that would never end, after telling myself that I was a machine and I had this, I was still climbing up with no end in sight. My patience, my temper, and my sanity were in short supply.

willey1And then we reached the tiny outlook that would provide the only view to reward us for our efforts. Next we reached the stone cairn that marked the wooded summit of Mount Willey. We grabbed a quick bite and then continued on towards Mount Field, as the day was growing old and there was no time to waste.
willey7It took almost an entire hour to reach Mount Field. At a slightly shorter distance than that to Mount Tom, I was worried. At the rate we were going, we wouldn’t be done and off the mountain until after dark. And due to the strenuous nature of the hike, I knew I couldn’t maintain our current speed.

willey2I fed the birds on top of Mount Field as I pondered the situation, their creepy strong talons twisting around my fingers with indian burn force as they ripped the food from my hands. For some strange reason, maybe the novelty of it, I kept subjecting myself to the experience. And then I heard the most beautiful thing ever – my husband’s voice suggesting that, due to the time, the weather, and the two pups who would be waiting at home for their dinner, that we climb Tom another day. The only thing that could have made me happier was already being down the mountain.

willey3It was an arduous (for me) trek back to Mount Willey. Somehow, with ankles wobbling and knees knocking, I got safely down the mountain with only one mishap – I paused for a moment, and the lack of momentum caused me to tip straight over to the side. I caught myself before falling and remained in a weird yoga stretch for a minute while I gathered the strength to right myself. I’m known for doing all my own stunts. I’m working on knowing exactly what stunt I’m going to do before it’s actually done. It’s a skill in progress.

Adopting an, “I’m NOT a little teapot,” matra, I continued to stumble down the mountain, listening to the cars pass on the road far below while knowing – KNOWING – that there was a willeypizza traveling in one of them. Several (seemingly endless) hours later, we were once again at the trailhead where our journey began. So while we ended the hike without conquering the three peaks we had set out  to climb, we did bag two, which should have earned me a pizza, but it didn’t. I got to go home and cook dinner instead. (Maybe I should have toughed it out to the third summit after all.)

“Hey, look….Hikers!”

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“Hey, look…..Hikers!” That’s what we heard as we exited the woods and approached the summit of Mount Gunstock. It wasn’t a casual comment or remark, but an exclamation of surprise. So we covered the remaining distance to the actual summit, somewhat self-consciously due to the stares, and walked up the steps to the viewing deck that was part of the pub on top of the mountain. That’s right…..pub. On top of the mountain. It was closed at the time, but still a novelty. The whole experienced seemed a bit poetic (albeit ironically, bitingly so) on this day that we were trying so hard to salvage.

The day had started out like any other Saturday. We were running slightly behind schedule leaving the house, but didn’t think much of it. Traffic was horrible….it took us an hour and a half to get out of Massachusetts, versus the usual 40 minutes. We were navigating to Mount Whiteface, which we were really looking forward to. My usual navigating apps had both disappeared off my phone the night before, but, after searching for the same ones without success, I downloaded a couple of others that seemed as if they would do the job. I was wrong. The destination of Mount Whiteface led us to someone’s front yard. And while we were surrounded by mountains, we couldn’t find out the names of any, nor how to get to any of their trailheads.

So after four frustrating hours in the car, we decided to head to Mount Gunstock, which we had already researched and had been saving for a shorter trip because it was closer to home and a much shorter hike. But in an attempt to save the day, we crossed our fingers and hoped the navigator would get us there. Thankfully it did, but I wasn’t too surprised as Gunstock Mountain is rather commercial, being the site of one of those ski resorts that offers an adventure center in the summer season. Zip lining, paddle boarding, a full bar and more.

We obtained a map, after much ado and many confused faces. A map….for hiking the mountain??? But you can take the ski lift right up. Hiking up takes 2 hours!!! But we had our map, we chose our trail, and set out to climb the 2 miles to the top of the mountain.

After sitting so long in the car, my muscles were so sore and tight that every step was a battle in the beginning. I found a nice, cool, flat rock next to the brook that I just knew was made for napping. But some encouragement from my partner in crime and plucking a magic wand while crossing a field spurred me on. (Perhaps the wand needs some explaining. I found one of those weeds that has a fuzzy thing on the end of a long stem, which promised ample opportunity to touch it to the back of someone’s neck and be annoying (magic). Fortunately (for someone), I was so stiff that I was unable to stay within striking distance, so my tortuous will was not inflicted – it merely motivated me to keep moving up the side of the mountain. That, and my hope to escape the constant irritating noise of people sliding overhead on the zip line.)

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Surprisingly, even with me in my slightly weakened state, the 2 mile, purportedly 2 hour hike took only a mere hour to accomplish. At which time we left the shelter of the woods to enter the stares of those who were ‘sensible’ enough to take the lift to the top of the mountain. We quickly chose our route of descent, exceedingly steep but with the best view, and headed on our way.  We had managed to enjoy our day, and I was feeling much better when I got back to the car than I was feeling when I left it. The hike was enough to attain the clear head and peace of mind I usually achieve from hiking a mountain, but this was my least favorite climb, and the first one I wouldn’t recommend.

Mount Sunapee

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The climb was challenging. The view was amazing. I have to say that Mount Sunapee is one of my favorite hikes so far.

I know that I was supposed to have learned my lesson about always doing my research before a climb. And I did. But halfway to the mountain we had researched, we decided to switch mountains. So a quick Google search via smart phone, a change in navigation, and we were on our way to Mount Sunapee.

On the drive, we passed by Lake Sunapee, the welcoming shores tempting us with the promise of a lazy day spent playing in the water. But we were on a mission and would not be swayed. Then, upon reaching the base of the mountain, we were shocked to discover that there’s an Adventure Center at the base of the mountain. Zip lining, Frisbee golf, ski lifts, Mini Golf!!!! I’m a HUGE mini golf nerd. The lure of brightly colored balls and ridiculously arranged greens….did I mention there was ice cream? But, alas, we were there to hike up the mountain, not play, so hike we did.
mountain1 This was no neatly manicured walkway. Trees that had fallen across the path were left for hikers to hurdle. Slippery rocks, gnarled tree roots and multiple switchbacks added to the charm of this rugged trail. Plenty of steep inclines made this hike a good test of strength and endurance. Going full speed ahead, we covered the 2.1 miles to the summit in just under an hour and a half. The final approach was a short walk through a tangle of purple wildflowers.
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We had the entire summit to ourselves. The views were gorgeous; a great reward for a challenging hike. I’d definitely recommend Mount Sunapee. It was a moderately hard climb, great views at the top, and very few other hikers. It doesn’t get much better than that!
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Spanning the Gap

Mount Monadnock as seen from Gap Mountain's North Summit.
Mount Monadnock as seen from Gap Mountain’s North Summit.

   I had a bittersweet moment this weekend as I said good-bye to an old pal. And while I’ll miss my friend, the time had come to part ways – it simply could not be avoided any longer. This weekend I traded my 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee in for a younger model. And while I’ll miss the car that had been my faithful adventuring companion for the last 10 years, I won’t miss what had become a daily struggle to keep it on the road.

    Or my new found freedom. I came home from the grocery store on Sunday, and it was suggested that in order to break in my new Jeep, that we hop in and drive to New Hampshire and find a mountain to hike. What’s this? An unplanned road trip? And we’re taking my car??? Suddenly the impossible was once again possible. My ride was no longer an old, broken down mule used only to get to work and obtain groceries. No, now I was the owner of a sturdy steed capable of covering great distances. So we headed to New Hampshire and ended up at Gap Mountain.

     At just under 2000 feet, Gap Mountain seemed like a good prospect for a late afternoon hike on a work night, an hour and a half from home. And it was. Although it started out pretty level and flat, there was a good distance of steep climbing to get to the top. Enough to cause breathlessness and excessive sweating. And although I thought I had learned to always do my research, we went in completely blind. Luckily the path is well marked, because we went in without a map.

     The sign at the entrance let us know that we were climbing the South Summit, which had no view. It then went on to boast of the wonderful view the North Summit had of nearby Mount Monadnock. So upon reaching the top after a quick 35 minute hike, we simply kept going, hiking over the top of the mountain, across the Middle Summit until we arrived at the North Summit. And while the view wasn’t all that the sign boasted, it was pretty, and a nice reward for an impromptu hike.

    

You’ve got to take a step to climb a mountain….

013     It’s Wednesday night, which means the much awaited weekend is finally approaching. I’m supposed to climb Mount Monadnock this weekend, but my pride is still recovering from Mount Wachusett last weekend. Mount Wachusett is great for beginners; it only takes about 45 minutes to get to the top. Too bad I had to take a break halfway up, huffing and puffing like an asthmatic geriatric. I comforted myself with the idea that someone who spent the first 30+ years of their life living at sea level probably has trouble adjusting to variations in altitude. The cold hard truth is that I’m out of shape. I sit behind a desk 5 days a week, and when I come home, I spend my time cooking a fancy dinner and eating it instead of exercising. Cardio has never been something I enjoy.

However, I made both the climb and the descent without injury, a major victory for someone like myself who has a knack for mishaps. By the end of the summer (or is it before the next snow up here in New England?), I will conquer one of the 4,000+ foot peaks found among the White Mountains in New Hampshire. So, I vow to do my best to rally and make my way up Monadnock this weekend, one step at a time.